The early school mornings had started to get boring, and my initial excitement about school was wearing off daily, the only thread holding it together being the two play breaks when two friends and I would skip rope. Classes were monotonous. Each day, using a big ruler, the teacher would point at hand drawn charts on the walls, and we would repeatedly read the written words out loud. Miss Aurelia would never tire of this routine. We mostly learnt English, Kiswahili and mathematics. One day in 2001, we had an unexpected guest in class; my father. Being the disciplinarian he is, I thought the teacher had blown the whistle on me for eating my lunch before lunch break. Instead, the teacher had invited him to teach us how to weave baskets, a skill he is still adept at. I was excited and proud of him.
For the rest of that week and over consecutive terms, different parents would come to school to interact with the learners and teach them various skills. Suddenly, for me, school was exciting again, and I now happily chanted the words on the wall charts. Whether it is weaving baskets, embroidery, moulding pots or even dancing, a child will always be excited to see their parents engaging in their learning process. School is a nightmare for most kids, who view it as an environment for only receiving information and responding to instructions. Most first-time Kenyan parents usually cannot wait to enrol their children in school. Some send them to play group as early as two years. The child is sent away to learn letters and numbers that are alien to them, the importance of which they do not know. In the evening, the child returns home to eat, sleep and continue the routine the next morning. The parent is ecstatic that finally, their child is in school.
In 2022, if you happen to be part of five conversations around education, there is a chance that two of those will be around parenting. Does raising a child right include continuous parental support of their learning process? More often than not, people will argue that it does not. Providing basic needs and the right to access education alone fall short of supporting a learner’s education. For better results, the parent and school should work hand in hand, regularly consulting about the learner’s academic progress, weak areas in learning and the learner’s discipline. They could also hold regular consulting sessions within the school with the learner present. These sessions are commonly known as parent days.
The close teacher-parent contact gives the learner the confidence that someone is concerned about their well-being, and as a result of that psychological effect, they are motivated to work hard. Many parents cite lack of time as the main barrier to being involved in supporting their children to the extent they would like. However, sparing even 30 minutes a day to ask your child how school was would go a long way to boosting their morale. While parents want to be actively involved in their children’s education, most do not know how to. Technology has made it especially easy for busy parents to interact with the school from the comfort of their home or work. They can send enquiries via text message, schedule a call with the teacher, email the teacher, hold scheduled zoom sessions for learners in boarding schools, and for parents who live near the school, face to face meetings once or twice a month.
Institutions often confuse parental involvement for parental engagement. Parental involvement, which happens when teachers call parents to keep them informed about their children’s progress and invite them to school meetings, is common in our learning institutions. The parent listens while the school management gives information and then responds to this information where required or as directed, but is not afforded the opportunity to have a voice. These interactions are commonplace in our Kenyan schools.
“When I was a learner, the most involvement my mother had was attending school opening and closing meetings. What she always took away from the meeting were mainly the financial needs of the school, her next term school fees payment plan and the infrastructural needs of the school. She was never guided on how she could encourage my learning journey. My mom often insisted that her role was to pay the school fees, and mine was to learn.”
This was my friend opening up to me after she heard that Zizi Afrique aimed to strengthen parental empowerment and engagement for Kenyan parents. As I listened to her, I realised how important it was to sensitise parents, not only about their roles in their children’s learning but also how to actively play these roles.
Parental engagement involves the parent as a voice, while the school lends a listening ear. The institution could provide material and training sessions for the parents and then seek their opinions on how to play an active role in their children’s learning life. While the teacher may know how best the learning takes place, a parent knows more about their child’s behaviour and characteristics. Parents are instrumental in the learning journey, especially during children’s foundational years of schooling. Academic success and literacy is the goal, but a child whose parent is actively engaged in their education has high self-esteem, believes in themselves and their abilities, and does not suffer behavioural problems that negatively impact their life.
The teacher can also provide opportunities for parents to connect closely with the school. Parents could volunteer to be part of the classroom activities and sometimes play the teacher’s role so the learners can appreciate them as a caregiver and teacher. This can be arranged during parent-teacher class committee meetings when parents can suggest when they are available. Parents and teachers should design the learning goals and expectations, and how they will share the responsibilities of helping the learner achieve set goals.
The question we need to ask is, how can the learning institution encourage parental engagement? This requires an approach that appreciates the parent’s role both as the learner’s carer and first teacher.
In response to the need for parental engagement and empowerment in Kenya, the curriculum Equity programme, Zizi Afrique, has rolled out a strategy that seeks to address this gap. The strategy includes developing a holistic parental engagement model by synthesising data from existing effective models, holding conversations with policymakers to define and validate the model and raise awareness through developed communication strategies.
It is important to note that parents shy away from situations they find intimidating and prefer easy and relaxed interactions with the school. The school should, thus, address challenges that hinder easy interactions with the parents. If the tone were set at the beginning of a learner’s educational journey by giving parents the teacher’s contact information with clear guidelines on how and when to contact the teacher, this would build confidence in the parents. This way, the parents would feel comfortable reaching out whenever they have questions regarding their children.
Interestingly, absenteeism drops sharply when parental engagement is deployed in learning because the two-way dialogues between parents and teachers ensure the learners daily participation in school. A study done by Robinson et al on K-5 students indicates that chronic absenteeism fell by 15% where parental engagement was deployed.
In a 1995 article and a 2001 book titled School, Family and Community Partnerships, Joyce L. Epstein asserts that school, family and the community are important “spheres of influence” on children’s development. She further states that a child’s educational development is enhanced when these three environments work collaboratively towards shared goals.
Floridah Ndumba is an Intern at Zizi Afrique Foundation, For feedback, send an email to email@example.com